The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!

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Classical music: What’s the point of the new “Hyperpiano” if it just mars the music, frustrates the performer and alienates the audience?

November 3, 2016
16 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everyone in the almost sold-out house at Mills Hall last Friday night, The Ear went to hear the wonderfully gifted UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor unveil his new hi-tech invention: the so-called “Hyperpiano.”

Taylor (below) patiently explained in detail how the hybrid electronic-acoustic piano was conceived and developed, and then how it worked.

Here is a link to two stories with detailed background:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/christopher-taylor-to-debut-new-piano/

Hyperpiano explaining

But at the risk of hurting the feelings of the brilliant and personable Taylor, The Ear has to confess: He left the event – more an experiment or demonstration than a concert – disappointed. He just doesn’t see the point. It seems a case where the idea will inevitably prove superior to the reality.

This new piano, conceived and executed by Taylor with lots of help, features a digital-like console (below) with two keyboards. The console then links up electronically to two regular acoustic concert grand pianos by means of lots of wires. Wires pass along electronic digital impulses to mechanical fingers that hit actual piano keys and makes traditional pianos play.

Hyperpiano console

If the Hyperpiano sounds like some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, well, that’s because it IS. Ingenious, yes; practical, hardly.

The piece Taylor used to demonstrate his new piano was the momentous and magnificent “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, a promising and appealing challenge for the new piano. The Ear has heard Taylor play this music before, and it was a memorable experience. 

Not this time.

A great instrument is supposed to make playing easier, to bring both the performer and the audience closer to the music. But this new piano interfered with both and did just the opposite. It put you on edge, just waiting for the next thing to go wrong and get fixed and then go wrong again. It made no sense, and little beauty.

Hyperpiano fixing a problem

Clearly the Hyperpiano – more accurately dubbed Frankenpiano by Taylor’s students — is a technological curiosity that is still a work-in-progress, with lots of snags and flaws that became apparent during 2-1/2 hours.

But even had it worked perfectly, The Ear asks: What is the point?

Certainly it makes for an interesting electrical engineering problem to solve, one that eats up lots of time, thought, energy and money. But why have three $100,000 concert grand pianos and a custom-built piano console all on the stage when a single traditional piano would do the job just fine?

Hyperpiano stage

Single-keyboard pianos have brought us many memorable performances of the Goldbergs – including those by Rosalyn Tureck, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt among others, to say nothing of Taylor himself.

And on stage was an old one-of-a-kind, two-keyboard Steinway that Taylor has used before to fine effect, rather like the two-manual harpsichord that Bach originally wrote the music for and that facilitates the difficult cross-hand passages.

Despite distractions, Taylor played the Bach with total commitment and enthusiasm as well as with his back to the audience, as piano recitals used to be played before the young Franz Liszt turned the piano sideways to show off his heart-throb profile.

Yet the misfiring of electrodes plus an unending loud chirp or tweet and the uneven pistons or clunky mini-jackhammers (below) that hit the keyboards as artificial “fingers” just meant a lot of dropped notes and, for the most part, a very choppy reading of Bach’s great music that stymied both the performer and the listeners.

Hyperpiano fingers

Compounding the performance was that Taylor took all the repeats, which often just doubled the frustration. How The Ear wishes Taylor had played just the first half on the Hyperpiano and then, for comparison, switched to a regular piano or to the two-keyboard Steinway.

True, at the end the audience gave Taylor well earned applause and a prolonged standing ovation. But The Ear suspects it was more for his perseverance, patience, good humor and stupendous effort than for the music itself or the new piano. He bets only a very few listeners would pay to go back to hear another recital on the Hyperpiano.

Will Taylor continue to work on improving the terrifically complex Hyperpiano? Yes, one suspects that he will and one wishes him success. But wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent learning new music and performing it?

The Ear says: Enough hype about the Hyperpiano!

It’s time for a great musician to get back to the music.

Did you go hear the Hyperpiano?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This will be a busy and historic week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

October 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which is now funded in large part by the Mead Witter Foundation.

The big event is the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new performance center. That, in turn, will be celebrated with three important and appealing concerts.

Here is the lineup:

FRIDAY

From 4 to 5:30 p.m., an official and public groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hamel Music Center will take place at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. (Below is an architect’s rendering of the completed building.)

uw hamel performance center exterior

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the two-keyboard “Hyperpiano” that he has invented and refined. (You can hear the opening aria theme of the “Goldberg” Variations played by Glenn Gould in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert and the innovative piano, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/09/13/pianist-christopher-taylor-to-debut-new-piano/

Tickets are $18 and are available at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office. Last The Ear heard, the concert was close to a sell-out.

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

SATURDAY

At 7 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who studied and worked with the recently deceased French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, will lead a FREE “Breaking Ground” concert of pioneering music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Composers represented include Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo Rossi, Alexander Scriabin, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Helmut Lachenmann and Morton Feldman.

For more information and the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/breaking-ground-with-marc-vallon-and-sound-out-loud/

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will give a FREE concert.

For more information about the group and the program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-wisconsin-brass-quintet/

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet


Classical music: CAN YOU NAME THAT TUNE? The Ear did at the movies — and passes it along

December 29, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s officially winter.

Christmas and other holidays except New Year’s are over or close to over.

Winter break is taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools.

All that makes it a good time to see movies.

So there The Ear was, sitting in one of the cinemas at Sundance 608 on the near west wide in Hilldale Mall.

Before the movie and the previews began, lovely piano music was playing.

What is that? someone asked quietly.

The Ear wishes that maybe Sundance could find a way to show the composer, work and performer on some section of the screen that also shows advertisements.

That’s because The Ear has also heard other works there by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as a mazurka and a nocturne by Frederic Chopin. And he wants other movie-goers to know what they are hearing.

Anyway, this time it was  a beautiful but rarely heard piece that The Ear recognized right away.

It is the transcription or reworking in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of the prelude in E minor from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. 

It is a gorgeously poignant Romantic piece by an accomplished Russian musician and pianist.

Alexander Siloti 

It is so hauntingly beautiful.

And it is useful as well.

It is really the same piece of music repeated twice. That makes it serve as a small and slow etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.

The piece also makes the player coordinate and strengthen the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and execute wide arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.

And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those endless sixteenth notes — the stream that the word “Bach” means in German. What a fitting name for the composer whose flow of music was endless!

All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be learned and performed more frequently. It has even been used by some major piano competition winners as a calming change-of-pace piece, a way to get into or out of the zone.

Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (who is seen below on the right with Siloti on the left).

Alexander Siloti and Sergei Rachmaninov

First, here is the Bach original played by Glenn Gould:

And here is the live performance of Siloti’s reworking and transcription by Gilels:

What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?

Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?

Other classical music you hear in movie theaters?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: This week brings some appealing solo recitals and chamber music performances for piano, violin, cello, guitar and piano trio.

November 8, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week has some big musical events, including the Madison Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” on Friday night and Sunday afternoon; and the annual two days of fall concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on Saturday and Sunday. Both of those events will be previewed at length later this week.

But there is also some very appealing music on a smaller scale, including a solo piano recital, a violin and piano recital, a guitar recital, and a chamber music concert that features piano trios.

Here are the four stand-out events:

TUESDAY NIGHT

On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Canadian-born pianist Joel Hastings will give a FREE guest artist concert.

His program features five transcriptions by Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Il m’aimait tant – Mélodie; Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha – Lied von Herzog Ernst, zu Sachsen-Coburg- Gotha; Spanisches Ständchen – Melodie von Graf Leó Festetic Romance du Comte Mikaïl Wielhorsky; Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth – Elegie/ Also included is piano music by Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) including Barcarolle No. 1, Chant de l’Aube, Sonorités and Rythmes; and Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).

Joel Hastings (below), who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was the winner of the 2006 Eighth International Web Concert Hall Competition and the 1993 International Bach Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
 After his performance at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one reporter designated Hastings the “audience favorite” while another declared, “the kinetic fingers of this young Canadian reminded me strongly of his late countryman, Glenn Gould.”

Hastings will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from noon to 2 in Morphy Hall.

For more information about events at the UW-Madison including student performances, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Joel Hastings

WEDNESDAY 

The UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble (below) will perform a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall under director Javier Calderon. Sorry, The Ear has received nothing specific about the program.

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a  photo by Caroline Bittencourt), the new professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will make her local debut. (She is seen below teaching in a photo by Michael R. Anderson.)

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Her must-hear program features the Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005, by Johann Sebastian Bach (which you can hear performed by Hilary Hahn in a YouTube video at the bottom); the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by Johannes Brahms; the Romance, Op. 23, by American composer Amy Beach; and the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by American composer Charles Ives. UW professor of collaborative piano Martha Fischer will perform with her. Admission is $12 for the public; free for all students.

For more information, visit these sites:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/debut-faculty-concert-soh-hyun-park-altino-violin/

For a Q&A:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/07/31/welcoming-new-faculty-violinist-prof-soh-hyun-park-altino/

For a fine background story and preview about a “world-class talent” from Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/music/violin-professor-soh-hyun-park-altino/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

SATURDAY

This Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, at 3 p.m., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), located at 1833 Regent Street in Madison, will host a performance by participants in The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music.

Parking is on the street and admission is a free-will offering.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music (ICM) offers a concentration in chamber music performance for advanced level graduate students and young professional musicians. The program is based at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is directed by violin professor Bernard Zinck.

Leonard Sorkin Institute logo

The program prepares students for careers in performance with a combination of weekly masterclasses, coaching and private lessons as well as financial and facility support. ICM students enjoy a rehearsal space and office dedicated to their use, mentors on self-management or advice on seeking professional management, and contest travel finances in addition to generous fellowships which pay tuition plus a modest stipend.

Leonard Sorkin Institute class

Typically, individual students form chamber ensembles such as string quartets or piano trios, give one group recital each semester, and use the repertoire from these recitals in outreach presentations, concerts and competitions.

The program to be performed at St. Andrew’s is: Piano Trio, Op. 33, in E-flat major by Louise Farrenc; Sonata for Cello and Violin by Maurice Ravel; and Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms.

For more information and biographies of the performers, go to an scroll down:

http://www.standrews-madison.org/saint-andrews-concert-series.html


Classical music: Who has stage fright and why? And how can you overcome stage fright?

August 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s surpising how many acclaimed professional performers -– like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, pop singers Adele and Carly Simon, actors Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis, and pianists Charles Rosen, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz  and Emanuel Ax — have suffered from the same ailment that afflicts countless students and amateurs, including The Ear.

We are talking about stage fright, which ranges from mild to debilitating in its severity. (Below is an illustration by Nishant Choksi.) It can literally rob people of careers in the performing arts.

Stage fright Cr Nishant Choksi

Periodically, stories about stage fright and how to deal with it or perhaps even lessen it come to the public’s attention. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The latest is a book by gifted amateur pianist Sara Solovitch (below top, in a photo by Christine Z. Mason). Her book, “Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright” (below bottom) has just been published by Bloomsbury.

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch's first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired. She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch’s first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired.¬†She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Sara Solovich Playing Scared cover

And here is Sara Solovitch playing a work by Claude Debussy:

Several essays and interviews give a terrific overview of the book and its contents.

Probably the best is in the Aug. 3 issue of The New Yorker in a review by critic Joan Acocella. Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/03/i-cant-go-on

Also, two stories on NPR or National Public Radio offer an engaging take on the book and the subject of stage fright:

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/05/419485599/in-playing-scared-pianist-grows-less-frightened-of-stage-fright

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/26/417190441/to-master-stage-fright-practice-makes-imperfect-ok

Do you suffer from stage fright?

How do you deal with it?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: Can you think of performers and performances that help explain the music?

June 28, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

French writer Andre Gide (below, 1869-1951) won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

andre gide

He was also an avid amateur pianist.

He collected and published his “Notes on Chopin,” which The Ear was reading the other day.

The Ear came across this sentence: “Any good performance should be an explanation of the work.”

Makes a lot of sense as a way to explain memorable performances.

The comment brought to mind conductor (and educator as well as composer) Leonard Bernstein (below) and the Vienna Philharmonic performing the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms (at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven as well as conductor Bruno Walter’s performance of the Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

It also brought to mind pianist Arthur Rubinstein performing so much Chopin, but especially the Ballades.

It brought to mind the Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux performing the solo sonatas and suite for violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Hungarian cellist Janos Starker performing the solo cello suites of Bach. Glenn Gould’s keyboard Bach probably also qualifies.

The Ear thinks maybe Gide is right.

What do you think?

And can you name performances and performers that explain the works they play?

Leave a message in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube video, if possible.

 


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project adds a second performance in late May with famed guest conductor Dale Warland. Plus, you can hear J.S. Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations arranged for string trio in a FREE concert on Friday at noon.

April 30, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House at 900 University Bay Drive, will offer a transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, originally composed for solo harpsichord, arranged for string trio by Russian violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Performers are Kangwon Kim, violin (below); Micah Behr, viola; and Mark Bridges, cello. (You can hear the opening of this transcription, with the arranger who was inspired by Glenn Gould, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Choral Project (below) write:

Madison Choral Project color

Dear Friends of Great Choral Music,

Due to high interest, we are pleased to announce we have added a second concert with guest conductor Dale Warland (below).

Maestro Warland’s program is titled: “Music of Our Time,” and features a wonderful array of music including Morten Lauridsen, Arvo Part, Ola Gjeilo, Carol Barnett, and even a work by Warland himself.

Dale Warland

We will now offer two concerts on the last weekend of May, both at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave, Madison:

Friday May 29th, at 7:30pm (Tickets are still available)

OR

Sunday May 31st, at 2:30pm

You can get your tickets by clicking on the links above, or going through our website: www.themcp.org/tickets 

Join us for this memorable evening of music-making!

A reception at the church to follow each concert.

The distinguished career of choral composer and conductor, Dale Warland, spans more than six decades and has made a profound contribution to the music of our time.

As founder and music director of The Dale Warland Singers, he commissioned over 270 new choral works and fostered the careers of an entire generation of composers.

This program, “Music of our Time,” features compositions by 20th and 21st century composers such as Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Dominick Argento and Morten Lauridsen, as well as several others. With just over an hour of music, the concert will be divided into six thematic sets: 1- American Voices; 2- From the Balkans; 3- From Belgium; 4- Traditional Texts: International Voices; 5- Classic American Folk and a Madrigal; and 6- From Minnesota.

All musical selections were chosen by Dale Warland, specifically for this collaboration with the Madison Choral Project.

If you would like to change your tickets from Friday to Sunday, please reply to this email and we can assist you.

 


Classical music: Ethan Hawke’s documentary film “Seymour: An Introduction” about pianist Seymour Bernstein, is now playing at the Sundance Cinemas. Go see it. Don’t miss it.

April 4, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday brought an event The Ear has long been waiting for: The opening at Sundance Cinemas of Ethan Hawke’s 80-minute documentary film about the 81-year-old New York City-based pianist, writer and teacher Seymour Bernstein (below).

Seymour Bernstein close at keyboard

Bernstein, you might have heard, was a child prodigy and critically acclaimed adult concert artist who, beset by stage fright plus other mid-life crisis-like thoughts, at 50 decided to drop out of the concert life to devote himself to teaching, composing and writing.

Famed actor Ethan Hawke (below left, with Bernstein), who has also struggled with stage fright, met Bernstein at a dinner party and decided to make a movie about this extraordinary man. (At the bottom in a YouTube video you can hear Bernstein play a lovely and well-known Intermezzo in A major — Op. 118, No. 2 — by Johannes Brahms for his new friend Hawke at a tribute during the New York Film Festival.) 

Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein

And by all standards, the film is an outstanding success.

For example, it gets a rating of 100 percent from the public website Rotten Tomatoes.

I don’t think I have ever seen a 100 percent rating at that particular website.

Yet it is not surprising.

The professional critics for major media are indeed no less unanimous in their praise than is the general public.

I offer proof. Here are samples, each of which touches on certain specific aspects of the film, but all of which praise the film unequivocally:

First, here is a previous post from this blog. It whetted my appetite and maybe yours:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=seymour+bernstein

Seymour bernstein 1

Here is the backstory about Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/arts/ethan-hawke-films-seymour-an-introduction.html?_r=1

And here is a five-star review from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/movies/review-seymour-an-introduction-is-a-lesson-in-perseverance.html

Here is another five-star review from Roger Ebert’s website:

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-2015

“Seymour” also gets high praise from The Wall Street Journal:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/seymour-an-introduction-review-striking-resonant-chords-1426186052

And from Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-20150311

And here is one from The Denver Post that I like and expect you will too:

http://www.denverpost.com/movies/ci_27831096/ethan-hawke-film-chronicles-career-top-classical-pianist

That should be plenty to convince you to go see “Seymour: An Introduction.” I don’t know how long it is scheduled to play at Sundance. But if enough people go and see it, it may be kept there for another week or two.

Then The Ear could see it twice.


Classical music: Bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile plays J.S. Bach – and earns raves.

October 27, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The brilliantly eclectic mandolin player Chris Thile (below, in a photo by Branley Gutierrez) ) is hot these days.

I recently heard Thile – who has been a member of the bluegrass bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers — live on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and also saw that Wisconsin Public Radio was offering his new recording as a gift during its recently completed — and successfully completed — fall pledge drive.

Chris Thile CR Branley Gutierrez

Thile’s new album for Nonesuch Records features his playing of solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Thile says he was inspired directly by the recording that Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux did of the solo violin sonatas and partitas decades ago for Philips. It is performance that The Ear, along with so many other critics, put right on the top of the list.

Arthur Grumiaux

But Thile also says he was heavily influenced by Canadian pianist and legend Glenn Gould – well, which Bach player wasn’t, one way or the other? Thile especially names Gould’s second version of the famous “Goldberg” Variations as a milestone in his life and career.

Glenn Gould old

To be fair, I still prefer the original violin version to the mandolin version.

But I have to admit that Thile’s playing and interpretations of Bach’s difficult music are miracles unto themselves. And unusual transcriptions are perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic and practice of Baroque era composers as well as Romantics like Franz Liszt and Ferrucio Busoni. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of Chris Thile playing Bach’s complete Sonata No. 1 in G minor on the mandolin.

Here is a wonderful comprehensive and personal profile and background story to Chris Thile’s concert in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, written by Steve Smith, that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/arts/music/chris-thile-will-play-sonatas-and-partitas-at-zankel-hall.html?_r=0

Here is an illuminating link to a conversation that Thile had on NPR with host Rachel Martin:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/08/14/210524386/chris-thile-looks-back-to-bach

And here is a link to the New York Times’ review of that concert (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg) by critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/arts/music/chris-thile-on-mandolin-at-zankel-hall.html

Chris Thile at Zankel Hall CR Tina Fineberg for NYT

What do you think of Chris Thile and his mandolin Bach?

Do you have a favorite solo violin partita or sonata by J.S. Bach?

The Ear wants to hear.


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